Carina Soliman

Constant communication is key

Miss Georgia, mother hen, marriage counselor of sorts, and mentor. These are some of the many facets of Carina or Apple Soliman, who attributes it all to the way she communicates and relates to people.

April 2018

Just when you think she has hooked you with the story to mark her career and/or her life, she comes out with another. And another. And another.

There is a reason why project officer for the Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division (CWUW) Carina Soliman, or Apple to many, is able to breathe life into the projects she supports: she has gone through so much. Her myriad experiences have a common denominator, she said, which is her ability to communicate, share, and talk. Essentially, though, it is because of her knack for putting people at ease, starting a connection, and her nearly instinctive willingness to help.

Apple first entered ADB as a secretary for the Water Supply, Urban Development and Housing Division (West) in 1997. She has been with the sector all throughout, save for three years in 2004 to 2007 when she became a senior administrative assistant for the Central and West Asia Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Division. In over 20 years, she has handled projects in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyz Republic, Georgia (where she worked on ADB’s first project), Pakistan, and soon, Kazakhstan, for ADB’s first urban and water loan. Currently, she’s with the team working on the Sustainable Urban Transport Investment Program, a multitranche financing facility, in Georgia.

The reason she joined ADB, however, was for the simple reason that she wanted her small family (only one daughter then) to have a good life. At that time, she had a string of good jobs as an executive assistant, always to the head of the companies; but it was not enough. The former jobs, though, were an early indication that she could manage those senior to her. She recounted the ways they trusted her with sensitive professional and personal matters, and let her pursue her interests, such as writing and leading a corporate newsletter.

Apple is a business journalism graduate, and her mother used to be a well-known television and radio announcer. However, an internship for a local daily, where she was assigned to the police beat, exposed her to misogynist encounters, ending her foray into the field. This did not deter her, nor other previous unpleasant experiences, from living her life. She revealed that her family before was not well off and that they had a lot of struggles. “But if you succeed from a painful situation, those that come in the future are all bearable. It helps you to grow. And your communication becomes better because you speak from the heart,” she said.

Today, Apple’s family has grown. She has two teenage sons, and her daughter has become a nun, joining the Pink Sisters in a life of piety. Apple could not be more proud. She mentioned how glad she is that her daughter did not take after her; but her stories say otherwise. Through the years, Apple has not only given her time for development work, but she has also mentored different colleagues (who she proudly boasts have surpassed her), advised couples with marital difficulties or personal concerns, and has participated in various acts of charity. Below is an excerpt out of several more stories shared in a two-hour-long interview with her:

They think I have some “magic stick” or super power to accomplish a request. It’s because you try to be flexible. I may not know all the answers but I communicate. And project administration and implementation as a whole are about that, communicating whether in writing, verbally, or even through non-verbal cues.

 

Carina Soliman

Project Officer

Central and West Asia Urban Development and Water Division

How did you get into ADB?

Apple: I didn’t know what ADB was. I thought it was a regular bank. I just saw an ad in the newspaper so I applied. I wanted to leave my job then because my daughter was growing up. I wanted to give her a good education. I mean it was fun, the job was good and I was able to do the things I like even some writing again because they started a newsletter at the company and I was in charge of writing, layouts… But I also felt that it was going nowhere. So I tried applying for different jobs. ADB took a long time to respond, and yet when they did by February or April, by July I was in. God is really good. It was right on time, because my daughter had just entered Grade 1 then. Everything comes at the right place at the right time.
 

Tell us about that first ADB project in Georgia.

Apple: My memory of this is so vivid up to now. This project was really a product of blood, sweat, and tears. First of all, it’s about financial intermediation. It’s not a regular loan. This means when we give the fund to MDF [Municipal Development Fund of Georgia], they would screen which municipalities are in need of financing using a criteria. They would then provide grants addressing the needs, such as road rehabilitation, water connections, and the like. Those that required resettlement, land acquisition, or any environmental risks were not qualified, to make it easier. So, we would see which were viable since they would submit sub-project appraisal reports, and if everything was in order, they could proceed with bidding. Those amounted to 72 contracts, predominantly local. Imagine we would get about five bid evaluation reports each day!

One of my project officers at that time was Vijay Padmanabhan. It was a challenge for both of us to review so many bid evaluation reports. At one point, we were even told we were slow. These were all small and quick projects, with the longest lasting 12 months. But all sub-projects were physically completed in 3.5 years—one year earlier than the closing date. We were really hands-on, monitoring each sub-project closely. We made sure disbursements were fast as well. Sometimes I don’t know how we were able to do it, but we really gave it everything. At times, I would say, ‘My eyes hurt already and I don’t want to review.’ It’s like you’ve been doing it so much that you won’t be able to see if there are any errors in the document. You felt like a robot. At that time, Vijay was also quite new in ADB. I was only ahead of him by about one year in the division. In a way I was also mentoring him. That time, though stressful, we enjoyed it a lot. Our project was given the VPO1 and CWRD Awards for Achieving Results (completing the project ahead of time). That was really something. That’s why they tease me and call me Miss Georgia! Now I’m proud to say that the biggest contributor to ADB’s Georgia portfolio is our division.

How were you able to complete the project ahead of time? What would be your advice to other project teams?

 

Apple: Just have constant communication. Communicate and put words into action. If you just tell them, ‘okay, we’ll do it,’ but you’re not doing anything, then where’s the help? If you say you are going to send this or that document, then you better be prepared to send it. Immediately. Especially with Georgia. Or else, you’ll damage your reputation. Always go back to thinking about your reputational hazard. Now, you can ask people at the Georgia Resident Mission, our counterparts call me and seek for help or guidance. They think I have some “magic stick” or super power to accomplish a request. It’s because you try to be flexible. I may not know all the answers but I communicate. And project administration and implementation as a whole are about that, communicating whether in writing, verbally, or even through non-verbal cues. Also, don’t find fault; find solutions. Resolve the problem if there’s a problem, whether with the team or the project. And pray for patience everyday. Even up to now, I do so, because everyone has a personality and you just have to be objective with people you’re dealing with. Actually in our division last year I was voted as the division’s Mother Hen, because they said I take care of the welfare of the staff [laughs].

Since you joined ADB, you’ve always been with the urban sector, save for a brief time with agriculture. From having zero knowledge to almost 20 years, what are your thoughts on urban development?

Apple: As the years go by, you can see how it evolves. I’m glad there are now a lot of initiatives focusing on sustainable urban development. Here in the Philippines, though, where we still have heavy traffic and pollution, it would have been great to see some vision on urban development early on. With any country, I think it’s really how the government is run that can spell the difference, whether for urban or rural growth. I really wish that in the Philippines we would have urban development in every sense of the word. You know, that it becomes a livable city, and then you’ll never want to leave because it’s so great.

In terms of the sector, I am pleased how it covers many aspects, not just roads or water service. Now, you see a lot of integration, including climate and environment. Urban development now is no longer about infrastructure. The approach is better. It’s really a holistic approach where all these complement each other toward urban development. In Georgia, for example, when we rehabilitated a road, there was this old resident who was so happy that she was crying, because she has been struggling for 40 years getting in and out of that village. When it rains, it would be so muddy and their water also became muddy. Now they have water all the time. In a way the project helped alleviate their poverty level. It’s about being inclusive, and hats off to whoever thought of that! If you ask me what sector I like, it would still be urban development.

What has been a striking or standout moment of your career?

 

Apple: I would consider working in CWRD/CWUW as a standout moment of my career in ADB. I am grateful to my former PAU [Project Administration Unit] Head, In-Ho Keum, who entrusted to me the implementation of the first ADB loan in Georgia considering that I was still a newbie analyst then – it was a test case, part of my learning curve in project administration. It was also my first full project cycle experience. I was then given more assignments after that, and now, it is my tenth year of assisting in administration of urban development projects in Georgia! I have been lucky, and of course proud, to have witnessed how ADB made its name as one of Georgia’s major development partners from the time I first set foot in the country in December 2008. I guess I’m even luckier to have gained quite a number of Georgian friends as well! The country and the people are awesome! I realized that the kind of work I do actually makes a difference in other people’s lives and in communities considering that they have better and improved quality of life due to rehabilitated roads, improved transport system, and access to potable water. And because of this I am happy doing project administration tasks since it is not only rewarding but I feel a sense of accomplishment… priceless!

What do you consider as your biggest achievement in life? 

Apple: Okay, it’s like this. In 2015 – I’m so proud of her – my daughter became a nun. But, I was ballistic when she told me she wanted to enter the convent. You know why? I was in denial, but I knew it from day one. She has always been an exceptionally good child. She didn’t take after me [laughs]. When I was still mad at the thought of her entering the convent, I tried to convince her that maybe the outreach that our family usually does was enough. I guess she imbibed these experiences plus our family values, and maybe all of these factored into the path she has now taken. I think that’s my achievement. Even if I don’t succeed in the work I do, I have my family and that should be enough for me.

Here in the office, when they heard that my husband and I process or help couples with marital issues, they were surprised and didn’t think this about me. I’m able to find the time amidst the busy work demands because I find it rewarding and fulfilling. It’s totally different from what I do here in ADB. If you’re no longer working in the bank, maybe only a few will remember you or the work you did. With this, I feel like we’ve shared our lives. Somehow I guess I have work-life balance. Now even here in the office I’ve come to be the person that people can go to and share their problems with. It’s not easy, especially for other nationalities since this is not the norm in their culture. But I always tell them that I’m happy that they trust me with their problems, their feelings.

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